Too often I hear those with strong left or right political ideologies labeling the other in an attempt to demonize their standings. I hear the word fascist or communist thrown around depending on who I’m talking to. In our country I am starting to think the debate isn’t about liberty and the restriction of liberty, but about what type of liberty to which we adhere. The types of liberty are spelled out in Isaiah Berlin’s essay Two Concepts of Liberty.
The first type is negative liberty, which is the freedom from interference. Andrew Heywood sums it up when he writes in Political Ideologies, “..in that freedom consists in each person being left along, free from interference and able to act in whatever way they may choose. This conception of Freedom is ‘negative’ in that it is based on the absence of external restrictions or constraints on the individual (pg. 31).” Now I can see most of those who hold to more libertarian views say that this is exactly what they are after. With the Constitution as their guide and the government leaving them own they can do anything. They might argue that leaving them alone is the what liberty actually means. With this conception of liberty being left alone is actually what causes innovation and therefor jobs.
The second type of Liberty is positive. Heywood writes, “defined by Berlin as the ability to develop skills and talents, broaden his or her understanding, and gain fulfillment (pg.31).” This is the freedom to pursue the good life. One is not so free to pursue the good life if they don’t have equal access to the resources of education, health care, and housing. This concept of liberty looks at the broader systems that keep people from pursuing the good life. It recognizes the collective element to our society and seeks to free people from these systems by taking steps to correct them. So, having a preexisting condition, before Obamacare, meant that a person was not free to have health care insurance and could go broke with costs of said condition. Positive liberty seeks to liberate people from the conditions that can keep them down.
It seems that debating these two types of liberty is actually what is going on in our political discourse. When I hear people talking online it seems like the merits of these two positions are actually what is being argued.